There has been a stirring within me, for quite some time, of an image and a thought. They are related, as the thought created the image, but the image won’t go away. I have been highlighting the teachings of Jesus in recent sermons, looking at the words written in red, and considering the power and importance of what came from the mouth of our founder, and our master. I have heard it argued, and quite convincingly at times, that because Jesus lived in the time of the Old Covenant, and since he was speaking to Old Covenant people, his words are not for us. While I agree that there are moments of obvious audience context, in which Jesus is speaking to immediate issues and answering direct questions, it seems to me to be a mistake to develop a theology that either advertently or inadvertently elevates the teachings of the apostles over that of Jesus. The image that sprang forth from this idea is of a lamb, facing us, with tape crisscrossed over its mouth. The caption is the idea: Silencing the Lamb. When we devalue the words of Jesus, we ignore the sound of the Logos, and in this hour of chaos, we need his voice, his wisdom, and his words, more than ever before.
The motif of the lamb permeates the Scriptures. From the moment Abram declares to Isaac at Mt. Moriah that, “God will provide himself a lamb” (Genesis 22:8) all the way through John’s revelation of a lamb, “as though it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6), we are confronted with the concept of sacrifice, blood, and the innocence of an animal that has no natural defensive capabilities; that cannot survive in the wild; and that is entirely dependent on an overseer.
It’s one thing when the Bible refers to us as sheep. We can understand this, for in contrast to God, we are defenseless, ignorant, and entirely dependent. But when the lamb best defines Jesus, it permeates our consciousness only in terms of sacrifice. He’s like a lamb in that he didn’t fight back, or that “he spoke not a word” in his own defense. But we need to realize that the lamb as a sacrifice was a representative of what was offering it. So if you took a lamb to the altar, that lamb became you. It bore your guilt; it suffered your punishment; it was the liason between heaven and earth. Jesus as lamb is not only Jesus representing our sins. Jesus as lamb is Jesus representing our condition to the Father; we are in need, we are ignorant, we are defenseless.
We can handle Jesus as the lamb, but frankly, we prefer Jesus as the lion. The lion is a predator. He is feared. He is king of the plains. Nothing messes with the lion. I saw a poster recently that featured a woman with a sword in her hand, standing on the edge of a cliff, looking into the distance. Behind, and beside her was a lion that was easily three times larger than any lion has ever been. It was looking over her shoulder. The caption read, “This is how I see myself with Jesus.” There’s no need to be picky, for such an image gives people courage and boldness. But for the record, it’s entirely unbiblical. If the poster was accurate, it would look like Revelation 5:5-6.
“But one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll, and to loose its seven seals.” And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Sprits of God sent out into the earth.”
When we finally have a revelation of Jesus as the lion, he is the lion in title. But in reality, when you look at him, you see a lamb as if it were freshly slain. At the end of the biblical narrative, not only is Jesus still a lamb, but now he is a lamb covered in blood, as if he is freshly representing all of us before God and the world. Freshly slain, forever, so that we will know that the conquering Jesus is doing so from a place of sacrifice, that he is always bleeding, because he is always giving of himself. His victory is one accomplished from a place of sacrifice. He isn’t going after the blood of his enemies, he is bleeding on behalf of his enemies.
There is a lot to say about the lamb, and I look forward to digging into it in the coming months through a series of sermons I have been working over for weeks now. But for this essay, let me hit some highlights, which will constitute the various angles and ideas I have when thinking of the lamb, and the importance of his voice.
It starts with the declaration of the Gospel of John, that in the beginning was the Word, and that the Word was with God, and was God. And then that Word, that LOGOS, became flesh, and dwelt among men. When the man Christ Jesus opened his mouth, he was the walking, talking, embodiment of the voice that spoke light into the darkness, and the planets into existence. The voice that declared, “Let there be light,” was the same voice that said, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.”
In Hebrews we learn that the word of God is quick and more powerful than a two-edged sword. This literature has led to our classifying people as “sharp-tongued,” but it seems to me to mean something more important. The words of Jesus are the words of God, and the sword is always a weapon. Therefore, it is not so much that Jesus is sharp-tongued, or that his words hurt you, but it is that the weapon he uses is not conventional; not natural. His weapon is what he speaks. His sword is what he says to the dragon in the wilderness. How else do you slay a dragon, but with a sword? His sword is in response to the accusations of the religious leadership. His sword is in forgiveness of his killers. His sword cuts indeed, but in a way no one ever expects. It cuts our hate, our emotional responses, and our need for revenge.
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus does indeed have a sword, but Revelation 1:16 says that it comes out of his mouth, which sounds just like the sword in Hebrews. It is his word, and it is two-edged. This sword-wielding Jesus warns the church at Pergamos that if they don’t change their ways he will come to them, “with the sword of my mouth.” Even in reprimand, he doesn’t switch the sword to his hand in violence.
When Jesus rides the white horse in Revelation 19, he still wields the sword, but the text is sure to impress upon the reader that the sword is still issuing from his mouth. Nothing changes. The slain lamb doesn’t return fire in the manner in which he was fired upon. He speaks up and he speaks back. He wins, but he wins in the same manner that the chaos was dispelled in the beginning. The Spirit of God hovers over the waters, and speaks!
If we focus on the words of Jesus, and source of his victory, we should also spend time on the silence of Jesus. The silence of the Lamb is as vital to the health of the body as is the words that he speaks.
Take the silence of Jesus from his public encounter with the doctors and lawyers at age 12, through his inauguration of public ministry, as an example of the importance of silence. We don’t know what Jesus went through, but we know that in his life he faced the same trials and temptations faced by all. He lost loved ones, suffered injury, dealt with chaos and felt mistreated. He learned what it meant to be human, but most importantly, he learned how not to react. The pressure must have been immense, to reveal himself to the world as Messiah, and yet he raised no one from the dead, opened no blinded eyes and did not set one captive free. A lot can be learned from the obedient silence of Jesus. You should feel no pressure to perform. Simply wait on the timing of the Father.
There was another particular moment of unusual silence on the part of the lamb. When Jesus met the accusers of the adulterous woman, he paused before answering their question as to what should happen to this woman. By law, she should die of stoning. But to approve of her death would be outside the character of Jesus. If we ever needed evidence that people did not see Jesus as capable of condemning someone to die, this confrontation is our evidence. He doodled in the sand, giving no immediate answer. While many have clever ideas as to what he wrote and why, I think it is quite simple. Take some time to hear the voice of the Spirit when you are faced with an impossible situation. Don’t rush in unprepared. Don’t give your opinion immediately. Don’t misread the argument and assume that the right answer is the quick one, or the bold one. Doodle in the sand so you take the time to hear the voice of God, so that you respect the magnitude of the moment by giving it time. If Jesus had to take a second to make sure he was hearing the Father, how much more should we do the same? The lamb was often silent, but it didn’t mean he had nothing to say.
There are a lot of moments where we attempt to silence the lamb by simply ignoring him. There are several things that Jesus said that are not palatable to our way of life, and in some cases, it would have been better for us (in terms of this world) if he had not said them at all. Think of a few of the statements of Jesus, that are simply difficult to applaud. He told us to pray for our persecutors and not to resist an evil person. We are to turn the other cheek when someone smites us. We are to give twice as much as is asked of us, both materially and of our time. We are to love our enemies and do good to those that hate us. We are encouraged to be charitable, but we can’t be public with it, and draw attention to it.
We have also ignored some of his statements that were obviously to those in his day, for they don’t line up with the framework we have developed in our own. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10 that if they are kicked out of a synagogue, not to worry, just move on to the next town, for they will not have went through all the towns and villages in Israel until Jesus comes. What? They will not have made it through all of the towns and villages before Jesus comes back? If your eschatology is bent a certain way, you’d probably rather Jesus not have said that.
Maybe the greatest attempt to silence the lamb is the one we laid out in the beginning. There is such an emphasis on the teachings of Paul in the New Covenant, that sometimes it seems the words of Jesus take a back seat. Part of that is because Paul so explicitly lays out the case for righteousness by faith, sanctification, justification, transformation and the indwelling Holy Spirit. We accept these things because they ring true to our heart, and they fulfill what Jesus said to his disciples that there were many things that he wanted to say but could not, until the Holy Spirit comes.
But let us be careful that we don’t ignore the words of the lamb as if they exist in some distant covenant and have no relevance to us. Paul told Timothy that Jesus’s teachings lead to godliness (1 Timothy 6:3), and nothing has changed in regards to Jesus’s teachings. What he said when he was here was indeed declared during the Old Covenant, but he himself parsed those differences. He was fond of saying, “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” This teaching style is used to show the difference in what they had known and in what he was declaring. So the words he spoke to them are timeless, and relevant, and need not be watered down or ignored. Don’t’ silence the lamb. His advice is priceless!
The truth is that we can’t truly silence the lamb. His voice is as many waters, and therefore he will always be heard. There will always be a place for, an audience for, and a need for, the words that come from the mouth of Jesus. We will always need that sword that proceeds from his mouth, for we will always need awareness of our victory. We can only silence the lamb in our own walk. We can ignore his voice because it isn’t convenient to our times, or our politics, or our system. And we can’t ignore the reality that from time to time there will be those who look like a lamb, but speak like a dragon. Like the character in Revelation 13 who shared such characteristics, this pseudo-lamb entrances humanity with his ability to do the spectacular, but the price for the spectacular is undying loyalty to the empire that funds him. God help us not to fall for the slight of hand. God help us to silence that supposed “lamb.”
Grace to you.